What I Learned From Telling 100,000 People About My Porn Habit

This is the story of my journey as a man – moving from shame, silence, and secrecy to a powerful place of integrity, courage, and connection. A journey that will last a lifetime. I share my story as an invitation for each of us to sit with our fears and discover our own path toward a life of deep purpose, empathy, and authenticity. It’s time we step up and begin the challenging work of transforming our culture of violence into a culture of love, starting from within our own hearts.This is a call for the rise of wholehearted men.

Sharing My Story

I published One Man’s Journey: How I Quit Porn and Why I’m Not Going Back on my friend Jamie Utt’s blog two days before Valentine’s Day. I had struggled for weeks to work up the courage to write and share such a personal and vulnerable part of my life story, but in my heart I knew that it had to be shared. But damn! I was nervous. On that quiet February morning, after a few final edits, I finally took the leap and posted it on Facebook. I could never have prepared myself for what happened next.

In just a few hours, over 40 of my friends had shared the post on their walls and conversations about pornography, sexuality, and addiction were springing up all across my network. I was surprised that so many people were willing to host such a tough conversation on their facebook walls. Over the next few days, dozens of shares turned to hundreds, thousands, and soon over 10,000 shares on Facebook.

The conversation caught fire and spread quickly, and it seemed everyone had a position on the issue. Soon, other blogs took notice and the post was republished on The Good Men Project, Everyday Feminism, and YES! Magazine. Several weeks later, over 100,000 people had read it. I couldn’t keep up with the comments, and stories started pouring in from people all around the country and the world. One of the most prevalent themes that was emerging was shame.

Navigating Shame & Hypocrisy

Pornography, as a topic of conversation, is largely shrouded in secrecy on the one hand, and yet culturally normalized on the other. “Boys will be boys” and “everyone watches porn,” I’ve often heard people say. What I’ve found is that there is rarely ever space within this narrow dichotomy for any real, truthful exploration of the impacts of porn on our lives and relationships. And this astonishing absence of authentic communication with regard to such a prevalent and painful issue seems to create a feedback loop of normalization, dismissal, and ultimately addictive behavior, which is spiraling out of control on a massive scale.

This pattern appears to be supercharged by a society that mixes puritanical notions of sexuality with gender-based shame to create a perfect storm of sexual guilt, fear of intimacy, and unexpressed sexual energy that desperately needs an outlet. I was driven to consume pornography partially as an outlet for the enormous inexpressible tension that I felt in my body. But expressing my sexuality in this way actually took me out of my physical body and, over time, created a barrier to true intimacy.

This escape from intimacy was really just one more defense mechanism to ‘protect’ me from the inherent vulnerability of true connection. At times, watching porn certainly felt like a safer way to express my sexuality than having to navigate the emotional complexity of an actual real-life partnership. But I always felt that something was missing.

After my year without porn, I realized that what was most painfully missing was my sense of integrity. The domination, objectification, and sexism that I was witnessing in many of the porn videos was not in alignment with my personal values. And feeling my porn habit moving further and further out of my control made it difficult for me to love and trust myself. I fell into a subtle depression, marked by a general numbness and lack of joy in my life.

I began experiencing a sort of spiritual cognitive dissonance, a trance that held me down in a dark place of shame that fueled an addictive behavioral cycle in my life. But I couldn’t even see any of this at the time. I just knew something didn’t feel right.

I had to face the fact that what I valued and how I behaved were, in the case of pornography, painfully incongruent. The truth was, I was a hypocrite. Regardless of what I wanted to believe about myself. And, let me tell you, there is nothing in this existence that has ever pulled me deeper into shame than being called out as a hypocrite. That’s the worst.

And yet, paradoxically, owning that reality was the key that unlocked the door out onto this new path of integrity and wholehearted living. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. And I couldn’t have done it alone.

Asking for Help

Secrecy is what sustains shame. And shame fuels addiction. Open and honest conversations are the antidote to shame because they give us space to speak the truth about our experiences, to see that we’re not alone, and to reach out for support.

There is no way I could have achieved my goal of 1 year without porn if I hadn’t asked a dear friend of mine to hold me compassionately accountable to that goal.

If I ever felt that I was on the verge of breaking my personal commitment, I knew I could call him. And, because I shared my goal with a person who I deeply respect, I knew that I would do whatever it took to stay the course.

This combination of fierce accountability and compassionate support gave me the strength to make it through the year, and beyond – I’m grateful to say that I’m still porn-free today. And, it all started with the vulnerable act of identifying the problem and reaching out for support.

I had to look at my shame before I could transform my addiction. I had to admit to myself that there was a problem before I could begin healing, re-sensitizing, and reconnecting with the man I truly am. I had to allow myself the chance to speak the truth, and not let that truth pull me even deeper into shame. I had to practice compassion. And I had to celebrate my successes along the way, to keep the momentum – and my commitment – strong. This combination of honesty, self-awareness, commitment, and celebration helped me transform my life. And it all started with having the courage to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability = Courage

By putting myself out there in such a raw and vulnerable way, I had anticipated experiencing what Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover” – where I would experience some kind of nervous breakdown and then never be the same again. And, while I never experienced that breakdown, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ll never be the same again.

Instead of experiencing a hangover, I felt a pulsing sense of joy and fulfilment in my heart unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I felt powerful, capable, and alive – as if every cell in my body was screaming “Yes! THIS is who you truly are!” I was living my life’s mission full-out and it felt incredible. I was no longer bearing the weight of secrecy. I had nothing to hide!

For the next 6 weeks, I felt high pretty much 24/7, riding a wave of abundant love, gratitude, and joy – grounded in a deep sense of alignment with my life’s purpose. I can only describe it as a feeling of electrifying joy, grounded presence and peaceful contentment, rippling into every part of my life.

I sit in a men’s circle with about 10 guys from my community where we hold space for one another to share our feelings and life experiences in safe and authentic ways. For months prior to sharing my story with the world, I remember often coming to the circle with feelings of sadness and numbness.

Now, all I wanted to do was scream for joy at the top of my lungs. Seriously, I could barely even contain myself during our meetings; all I wanted to do was jump up, give each of the guys a big huge hug, and then run off into the streets to proclaim my god-given right to love and be loved! I was on fire. And it all started when I was willing to admit to myself that I was out of integrity with the man I wanted to be, and when I was willing to trust – without any guarantee – that a deeper, more authentic life was waiting for me on the other side of my fears.

Transforming Shame Into Power

In sharing my story, I discovered that I could take one of my deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets and turn it into an unprecedented source of creativity, connection and personal power in my life. How fucking awesome is that?! I felt as though I had been re-born, reawakened, alive again for the very first time. And I couldn’t wait to share it with the world!

And so I am. By living courageously from my vulnerable truth, I stumbled into what may well be one of my life’s greatest callings: To activate and support the rise of wholehearted men – learning and leading by example. I’m launching this blog as a home for this unfolding life work – a laboratory for the practice of wholehearted living. Let’s share our stories, question old cultural norms and explore the incredible power of healthy vulnerability.

I’m calling for you to join us. I’m calling in a whole movement of us rising up together to transform our shame into personal power, connection, and authentic expression. Where our stories disintegrate the barriers between us and open up space for the healing that is so desperately needed in our world today.

Imagine what we will do together from a place of collective integrity, when we are willing to be honest with ourselves and others. When we are able to feel perfect in our imperfections, knowing that every hidden fear within us can become a bridge to connection with others. Simply because our vulnerability makes us human. It makes us who we are.

What will life look like when we awaken all of our senses to the untold beauty and abundance of our existence? As heros of our own journey, ready to take the next bold step in our lives. Ready to collectively write the next chapter in the coming-of-age story of humanity.

Let’s make it happen..

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Thanks for reading! What can you do now?

1. Add a comment below (what did this post bring up for you? What do you plan to do?)

2. Share this post with friends on Facebook and Twitter (let’s grow the movement!)

3. Set a goal for your own life (how will you experiment with healthy vulnerability today?)

4. Learn more about ‘men’s work (I recommend checking out the ManKind Project)

5. Is porn impacting your relationship? Send me your story! And I may include parts of it in a future blog post (names kept private, of course). Your story could help others dealing with these same issues. Together, we can overcome the silence and transform the shame. Together, we can build a world of fierce love, connection and authenticity.

Send your stories of failure and success to: [email protected]  

With fierce loving compassion,

-Dan

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